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Tuesday May 5, 2009 5:01 AM

Rockets Stun Lakers in Game 1

Total team effort lifts Houston to 100-92 victory

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer

Los Angeles - Shocked and distraught Lakers fans began lurching their way toward the exits with a few minutes remaining Monday night, right around the time a local reporter was overheard admitting her story had been ruined; so unprepared was she for even the mere possibility of a Rockets’ Game 1 win. Perhaps such is life in Hollywood, where the Lakers’ dominance is so taken for granted that even their games – and their supposedly preordained victories – can be scripted beforehand.

Yet someone forgot to inform the Rockets that they were supposed to lie down and play the willing victim, so Houston instead crafted its own blockbuster ending, stunning the Lakers by posting an incredibly impressive 100-92 victory in the first game of their Western Conference semi-final match-up. In the hero’s role was Yao Ming, who shook off a frightening-looking but ultimately harmless knee injury late in the game to lead his club with team-highs in both points (28) and rebounds (10).

“I don’t know what our trainer did to Yao but he was like Rocky coming back out there,” said Rockets’ head coach Rick Adelman after the game. “We really needed him on the court.”

Sure enough, Yao responded to his team’s call by only missing a mere 54 seconds of game-time after knocking knees with Kobe Bryant on the latter’s full-steam-ahead foray into the lane with little more than five minutes remaining in a contest separated by only 6 points at the time. Houston’s All-Star center limped off the floor in agony, yet didn’t miss a beat upon his return, as he proceeded to score 6 of his club’s next 8 points, helping the Rockets put the finishing touches on one of their finest performances of the season.

“I was proud of (Yao),” said Ron Artest, who delivered the goods in Game 1 as well, scoring 21 points while dishing out a game-high 7 assists. “He didn’t even make it to the training room. Time was of the essence. Every second was killing him not to be on the bench or on the floor. He came right out and I was just so proud of him. He showed so much courage and knew that we needed him.”

But Yao wasn’t the only Rockets player who got roughed up in what turned out to be an extremely physical affair Monday night. Shane Battier took his lumps too, requiring four stitches to close a gash he received when Sasha Vujacic recklessly swiped for a rebound but instead came in contact with nothing but the left side of Battier’s face. Still, that wound did nothing to inhibit Battier’s superb defense on Bryant, who led all scorers with 32 points yet required a whopping 31 shots to reach that number.

“We were trying to keep (Bryant) from getting to the rim,” explained Adelman while discussing Houston’s defensive strategy. “We have a lot of stats that we look at and it’s pretty obvious that we he gets to the rim it’s really difficult for the other team. So we were trying to just flood the lane and be really active. It was kind of similar with what we did with Portland and Brandon Roy, except Kobe is much more aggressive at getting to the rim than Roy was.

“One thing about Shane that I really appreciate and I don’t think people understand is he has a really good understanding that he’s not going to shut Kobe down. He knows it’s not going to happen. I always give the example of when I had Buck Williams in Portland – he used to play Karl Malone and these other guys and he’d say, ‘I know I’m not going to shut them down, but I’m going to make him work for everything.’ (Shane is) going to send (Kobe) to the right spot, knowing where he’s going to have help and that’s crucial. If you don’t do that, if you don’t understand what we’re trying to do, then he’s going to really hurt us. So it’s very important and we count on that a lot.”

Battier, meanwhile, had little desire to bask in the glow of his or his team’s performance after the game. He was already focused on the next task at hand.

“Honestly,” he said, “The first thing we said when we came into the locker room was, ‘OK, good job guys - let’s get Game 2, too.’”

Houston certainly shouldn’t lack for confidence heading into that tilt, even though Los Angeles is certain to up its game Wednesday night as well. The Rockets figure to receive a huge boost from finally exorcising the fourth quarter demons which had tormented them all year against the Lakers; an especially impressive feat given the fact Los Angeles made its inevitable run in the final frame, taking the lead with 8:19 to go on a pair of Shannon Brown free throws. But instead of fading down the stretch as they had during their four regular season meetings with LA, the Rockets immediately responded with a 9-0 run keyed by a three-point play from Artest and two huge buckets by Aaron Brooks (19 points).

“A big play by Ron,” agreed Adelman. “He made that jumper and got fouled. From that point on, we were able to get some things happening offensively with Aaron and everything. That was important. That’s what scared me when Yao went down – he’s kind of our anchor they have to worry about. But I think our guys are very determined. Again, the way they played in the last series, the way they approached these two days leading up to this game, these guys are going to play. It’s just a matter of having people step up in the last eight minutes of the game – like Kobe steps up for them. You need someone to step up and we had that tonight.”

As a result, the Rockets are now the proud owners of a 1-0 series lead, something few outside the Houston locker room deemed possible heading into the evening. But the Rockets never did sweat their status as underdogs; a term Yao only just recently added to his lexicon.

“That’s a word I just learned a couple days ago,” he said, before pausing to put Houston’s big win in perspective. “It’s just like the NBA says: Where amazing happens.”

Indeed, Houston's win provides further proof that this Rockets team is capable of just about anything these days - perhaps even something as novel as provding the aformentioned suddenly-scrambling reporter with a fresh, new angle. After all, Cinderella stories always go over big in Hollywood, right?

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

On his team’s performance:

“Just a great win for us. Give our guys a lot of credit. They came in with the right attitude at the very start of the game. They came in aggressive. I thought we got backed off a little bit in the third quarter, but from the middle of the third on we really played well, really played well as a team.”  

on knowing how to handle the end of the game:

“We thought we could play well. We talked about it. We saw four games of what happened. We knew Kobe was going to turn it up. We knew everything. I got to give Aaron Brooks a lot of credit. He came in and I told him at the start of the third, the first time out of the third quarter, that he’s got to get more aggressive. He’s got to make things happen for us and attack them. And he did that.  

And I don’t know what our trainer did to Yao but he was like Rocky coming back out there. We really needed him on the court. We made free throws down the stretch when we had to, and I just can’t say enough about our team and their attitude coming into this game.

On the defense on Kobe:

We were trying to keep him from getting to the rim. He put his head down and got there at the end of the game but that was our goal: Make him take jump shots and not let him get to the rim. We have a lot of stats that we look at and it’s pretty obvious that we he gets to the rim it’s really difficult for the other team. So we were trying to just flood the lane and be really active. It was kind of similar with what we did with Portland and Brandon Roy, except Kobe is much more aggressive at getting to the rim than Roy was.

One thing about Shane that I really appreciate and I don’t think people understand is he has a really good understanding that he’s not going to shut Kobe down. He knows it’s not going to happen. I always give the example of when I had Buck Williams in Portland – he used to play Karl Malone and these other guys and he’d say, ‘I know I’m not going to shut them down, but I’m going to make him work for everything.’ And he’s going to send him to the right spot, knowing where he’s going to have help and that’s crucial. If you don’t do that, if you don’t understand what we’re trying to do, then he’s going to really hurt us. So it’s very important and we count on that a lot.

on the Rockets’ resilience:

“Our team has been so terrific at maintaining that, ever since we got this group together. With everything that happened to us – we started building our defense and we got better and better and better. We have guys who put it out there on the line, they know what their jobs are and they commit to it. I think that’s the biggest thing.”  

on the Rockets’ defensive attitude:

“All we talk about – the last series, too – is ‘OK, we’re going to start this game off but we must get better as the game progresses defensively.’ The more you see a team, the more you see what they’re going to do, the more you understand as a team what you have to do. It’s going to be totally different the next game, we know that. These guys are going to play much better and we’re going to have to come out with the same type of attitude that we had tonight.”

“A big play by Ron – he made that jumper and got fouled. From that point on, we were able to get some things happening offensively with Aaron and everything. That was important. That’s what scared me when Yao went down – he’s kind of our anchor they have to worry about. But I think our guys are very determined. Again, the way they played in the last series, the way they approached these two days leading up to this game, these guys are going to play. It’s just a matter of having people step up in the last 8 minutes of the game – like Kobe steps up for them. You need someone to step up and we had that tonight.

YAO MING

on his knee and tonight’s performance:

“My knee feels fine, thanks for asking. There’s no need to worry about it, I just need to put ice on it. Tonight I think my team had a great night. Everybody came out with a very active attitude. I think Ron Artest and Shane Battier did a great job on guarding Kobe. Everybody played very unselfish and I think Aaron Brooks at the second half made a big turn for us against their guards. I think that’s one of the best games he has had.” 

whether or not he thinks Ron Artest is smart basketball player:

“Tonight after I leave this building I will yell Ron is a smart player, Ron is a smart player, Ron is a smart player. Everybody has their own talents; his talents are his strength, his shooting, and his post-ups. He uses that well and that’s why he’s a smart player.” 

on his thoughts when he went down because of his knee and if he thought he could come back:

“There’s nothing to worry about. When I got hit, I knew I could’ve come back, I just felt so sore. I’ve had that before. I felt that I just needed a minute or two to let the soreness go away. I just felt so bad at that moment but I know I’m fine.” 

On whether he felt like a big underdog coming into the game:

Well that’s a word I just learned a couple days ago. It’s just like the NBA says: “Where amazing happens.”

We have to trust everybody, play together and play tough and unite together. That’s how we played after the trade and through the first round, and I think that’s a very, very awesome locker room; we have very good chemistry in there and everybody is playing together.

SHANE BATTIER

“We knew it had to be a knuckleball sort of game – a spitball, dirty game. We are not going to run with these guys, they are so good offensively that we had to muck it up. And we did a great job just controlling tempo and we finally made plays in the fourth quarter which is unlike the other four games we played them this year.”  

‘Honestly the first thing we said when we came into the locker room was, “OK, good job guys - let’s get Game 2, too. We just want to be playing good basketball and the thing about this series is we have so many games so quick, there is not going to be a lot of time to revel in this win unlike the game 1 in Portland.”  

on Yao’s return to game:

“Well we know the big fellow, he’s tough so while there was initial concern we knew he’d be back unless it was really, really bad.” 

on their defensive effort:

“We did a great job team defense tonight every time he came up with a pick-and-roll we had a guy there to make him think about passing the ball. He still scored 32 points so there is room for improvement. Overall we did a very good job of making a wall.”  

RON ARTEST

There was a period in the fourth where it was like déjà vu to the fans who have watched us play. But we stayed with it we just continued to play, they pressured us we tried to run plays all the way through and listen to coach, and we were really composed. We said if anything we didn’t’ want to lose our composure out there and that’s what happened.”  

on Aaron Brooks:

He controlled the game I was really proud of him. When he’s playing bad or he’s in a frenzy I get on him, when he’s playing well I praise him, he’s the reason why we won him and Yao.” 

“It’s not a big deal, like I said even when we lose it’s not a big deal when things are going bad it’s not a big deal. We don’t have home court advantage so if we go to the Finals it’s 7 games every series it’s 28 games. You look at 1 out of 28 or 1 out of 7 it’s not that big a deal.”

On Yao:

I was proud of him. He didn’t even make it to the training room. Time was of the essence. Every second was killing him not to be on the bench or on the floor. He came right out and I was just so proud of him. He showed so much courage and knew that we needed him.

AARON BROOKS

I’ve got to use my quickness to get my shot off. I know I’m not as tall as other players, but that’s my game. We’ve got so many weapons it’s hard to key on one person so even if I didn’t have a shot, I could find Yao or Ron in the post.

BRENT BARRY

“That’s why the series can turn. Every game we played against the Lakers this year we struggled in the 4 th quarter to get some things done and we know that is a point of emphasis for us we understand that’s been a point of strength for them so it’s up to us to be better in the 4 th quarter. If we do that we’re going to find ourselves s in opportunities where the game is close like tonight and when you’re on the road and you have a chance to win it’s a special place to be. So we took full advantage of that opportunity in game one.

PHIL JACKSON

on tonight’s game:

“Well, that was no surprise to us. I don’t think to me, at least. But the outcome of that game, you know, it’s not as bad as it seems. We’re okay. We feel confident we’ll come back and give a good effort on Wednesday night.”

on what hurt the Lakers:

“I thought we took tough shots. We fell into some of the things they wanted us to do. That’s obvious. Little things. Free throw shooting. Some of the fast breaks we had that didn’t pan out for us – four of them or so that really were efforts that we didn’t complete or else we made mistakes on. An offensive foul on a couple. Those are things that we’ll have to remedy. Those are things that are a little bit slip-up from not playing.”

on the success of Aaron Brooks:

“Yeah, he got to the baseline really quick on us a couple drives and slipped that ball in and it broke us down in a couple situations. His quickness hurt us.”

KOBE BRYANT

on Brooks’ performance in tonight’s game:

“I think he used his quickness. We didn’t do a good job. We lost two or three possessions and we needed to get some stops. We broke through and got some lay-ups but were just blowing defensive assignments.” 

on never breaking through in this first game of the series:

“We just blew some defensive assignments and key moments. We missed a rotation here and there, gave up baskets and points, and good looks; that’s something that we can not do and make a run. You have to make them take at least contested shots, so that is something that we have to correct.” 

on what he needs to communicate to the team in preparing for the next game:

“It is one game. Everybody is disappointed that we lost and so are we, but there is nothing much that we can do about it now. We are a good road team; we believe that we can win anywhere. We just have to bounce back Wednesday and go from there.” 

LAMAR ODOM

“We didn’t shoot the ball well for the first time in a long time, got off to a slow start and they got the lead. We don’t want to give up ten point leads at home. We cut it down I think once to a tie game, but they did a good job. They made big shots.” 

on the importance of defense:

“You miss you miss but when you do miss you have to get better defensively. This is a game where we have to get a little tougher defensively to keep those guys out of the game.” 

ANDREW BYNUM

“It had a lot to do with refs but I also think we had too much time off and we kind of got out of sync. Tomorrow’s practice is one we’ll attack and work a lot on execution and defensive schemes.” 

PAU GASOL

“Obviously this wasn’t the way we wanted to start a series and we weren’t as sharp as we should have been. We didn’t knock down a lot of our shots and we had a couple of breakdowns defensively. It’s tough to play worse than that. We didn’t play like ourselves the way we usually play, the way we move the ball, we didn’t communicate on defense and that’s why they had so many open jumpers and that penetration. I think we can play a lot better than that. They did a good job and earned the victory.” 

on tonight’s officiating:

“There were a lot of questionable call that’s for sure but there are some aspects of the game that you cannot control and you just have to play through it. You hope that those calls go your way but sometimes they don’t and you just have to continue to compete. In a game so close like this one was most of the time any and every call is crucial.” 

SHANNON BROWN

“Some of the time we didn’t execute our defensive assignments right and they took advantage. Yao stretched the floor a little bit. He stepped out and knocked down the open jump shot. We just have to tighten up. It’s definitely a wakeup call. You never want to lose in the first game of the series but we’ll be fine. We’ll come back in go to work tomorrow and come out ready for game two.”

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